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Tue, 11.01.2005

The Carolina Chocolate Drops are Formed

The Carolina Chocolate Drops

*The Carolina Chocolate Drops are celebrated on November 1, 2005.  They were a Black old-time string folk band.

Formed at the first Black Banjo Gathering, held in Boone, North Carolina, the group grew out of the success of Sankofa Strings. This group collective featured Dom Flemons on bones, jug, guitar, and four-string banjo, Rhiannon Giddens on banjo and fiddle, and Súle Greg Wilson on bodhrán, brushes, washboard, bones, tambourine, banjo, banjolin, and ukulele, with Justin Robinson as an occasional guest artist—all shared vocals. The purpose of Sankofa Strings was to present a gamut of African American music: country and classic blues, early jazz and "hot music," string band numbers, African and Caribbean songs, and spoken word pieces.

The Chocolate Drops' original three members, Giddens, Flemons, and Robinson, were all in their twenties when the group formed.  All the musicians sing and trade instruments, including banjo, fiddle, guitar, harmonica, snare drum, bones, jug, and kazoo. The group learned much of their repertoire from Black old-time fiddler Joe Thompson, based on the traditional music of the Piedmont region of North and South Carolina. Their 2010 album, Genuine Negro Jig, won the Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album and was number 9 in fRootsmagazine's top 10 albums of 2010.

The Carolina Chocolate Drops have released five C.D.s and one E.P. and have opened for Taj Mahal and, in 2011, Bob Dylan. They have performed on Mountain Stage, MerleFest, and Mount Airy Fiddlers Convention. Additionally, they have performed on A Prairie Home Companion, Fresh Air, and BBC Radio. They have performed on the Grand Ole Opry several times. In 2012, the Chicago Black Theater Alliance nominated them for numerous awards for their work in Keep a Song in Your Soul: The Roots of Black Vaudeville. Staged by the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago, the program examined the hopes and realities, music, and dances of the Great Migration. Also in 2012, the Drops contributed a song, "Daughter's Lament," to The Hunger Games soundtrack.

In 2013, Dom Flemons left for a solo career and introduced two new members: cellist Malcolm Parson and multi-instrumentalist Rowan Corbett. In 2014, the Chocolate Drops worked with choreographer Twyla Tharp and dancers Robert Fairchild and Tiler Peck to create Cornbread Duet. In 2014, the group stopped performing together regularly, and members have pursued solo work and other projects since then. In 2023, the opera Omar, co-written by Giddens and Michael Abels, won the Pulitzer Prize for Music.

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